Cyril Kenneth Bird - Fougasse

24 January 2017

First World War aficionados will be familiar with a fougasse – an unstable French landmine whose “effectiveness was not always reliable and its aim was uncertain” but Fougasse was also the pseudonym of one of Britain’s most popular cartoonists, Cyril Kenneth Bird, whose distinctive style was instantly recognisable. 

Bird was a survivor of the First World War, having joined the army (Royal Engineers) at the outbreak and was badly wounded at Gallipoli when a shell exploded close by, shattering his back and leaving him unable to walk for three years.  It was during his convalescence that he began to draw cartoons, which he sent to Punch and other magazines such as The Bystander and The Tatler.  He had his first drawing accepted by Punch magazine in 1916 and subsequently became a regular contributor, with his sharp observations and innovative style quickly becoming popular.  In 1937 he became Punch’s Art Editor, gravitating to Editor in 1949 (the first cartoonist ever to become Editor of Punch) and retiring in 1953. 

As well as his work with Punch, Bird was also enjoying commercial success, designing his first poster for London Transport in 1935 and designing for the forerunner of British Airways, Imperial Airlines.  By the outbreak of the Second World War, he was already an established cartoonist, illustrator and commercial designer but it was the war which brought Fougasse to the attention of a much wider public.  Working entirely voluntarily for the Ministry of Information, who were concerned that Nazi spies could be operating in Britain, and using humour to creative effective propaganda, his “Careless Talk Costs Lives” series of posters became some of the most effective and memorable images of the Second World War.  His posters for London Transport, advising passengers to save paper, or to pass down the train or not to stand on the wrong side of the escalator, also became instantly recognisable. 

What is less widely known about Fougasse, however, was that he was also a passionate advocate for animal welfare.  In 1949, he became Chairman of an animal welfare charity, the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare, having been one of its first members.  He held the post of Chairman until shortly before his death in 1965 and under his Chairmanship, the charity led on a number of initiatives that have had a lasting impact on animal welfare for wild, farm, companion and laboratory animals.  UFAW’s campaign to educate farmers and others on the causes and prevention of foot-rot was illustrated by Fougasse himself and his humorous line illustrations are still a feature of many UFAW publications today.  One of his favourite subjects was the “good, kind lion” protecting others from harm, which referenced UFAWs’ address at that time in Red Lion Square, London.